Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Coin in the Middle of the Room

I received this small post in a email a friend forwarded to me from a friend of his who has been in dialogue with his father over the doctrines of grace. Notice I said dialogue, not debate. It is truly wonderful to hear of fathers and sons discussing these wonderful doctrines with both eager to understand the truth and set aside emotion. I asked if I could use this section, for it is a good illustration and maybe the Lord would see fit to use the same illustration through us in our conversation with others.

I had been reading the Scriptures for about three years when problems like the one you've presented started to multiply in front of me. Before that, it was easy to play "The Either-Or Game" and dismiss one side or the other in favor of the aspect I'd already learned and come to appreciate. Our dismissing of one element of truth usually happens when we trim it down to "make it fit" with another. In some cases, the Bible's teaching is so hacked and hewed when we've finished with it, that it is almost unrecognizable. With some, human responsibility can become 'no responsibility', and, with others, divine election becomes 'divine reaction'.

The history of doctrinal debate in the Church is chock full of examples where one party stood for one side of truth, and another group took the other side. Truth, like a coin held up in the middle of a crowded room for all to see -- some from a better angle than others, some at closer proximity than others -- then becomes the subject of intense debate between the cliques which have formed inside the room. One argues that 'heads' is revealed on the surface of the coin. Another, aghast on the other side of the room, reply that 'tails' is so obvious it cannot be missed, except by the totally blind! Precious few souls take enough time and effort to stand up and move through the crowd in order to acquaint themselves better with the coin. The crowd impatiently wonders why these meticulous few must disturb the room by moving around so much. "Just take one look at the coin, and you'll see what's on it! Besides, our forefathers have already told us what's on the coin, so you needn't really even look." Later, when those few eventually have an opportunity to speak, they confess their increasing conviction that the coin has BOTH a heads side AND a tails side. "What?! How absurd! That's impossible, irrational. Just look at the coin: how many images do you see?!" The ensuing din drowns out the voices of the few, and the crowd goes on debating, century after century, oftentimes the same points of doctrine.

More or less, that's the history of the Church in its' more controversial moments. In every age, men like Augustine and Aquinas and Calvin saw and confessed both sides, and were therefore misunderstood on all sides. They were repeatedly accused by one group of holding their opponents' error, and then accused by the other group of erring with the first group!

Anyway, for myself, I passed three or four years paring down certain doctrines to fit others. At the same time, however, I was moving slowly around the room in order to observe better this coin of such great importance. Slowly, observing the coin while listening to the people from this or that clique, I began to see the underlying pattern. Truth is two-sided from our human perspective -- a principle which touches nearly every doctrine revealed in the Scriptures. It is certainly NOT a grid through which to read the text of Scripture, but it IS a very helpful tool for understanding and interpreting the Scriptures. Once grasped and appreciated, it becomes much easier for the reader to move with the Sacred Text, wherever it might lead him. You'll be gloriously surprised at how easily things start to fall together, and how erstwhile problems begin to disappear.

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